All Flowers in Time, and an interview with director Jonathan Caouette

Horror fans gather 'round, David Lynch fans get your popcorn, faint-of-hearts cover your eyes and watch this film from between your nervous fingers. This film, is scary. The mysterious synopsis goes like this: "I am not from this place," declares a French cowboy. An old toothless man asks, "Do you know why you're here?" These shape-shifting personalities infect young children with an evil signal in the form of a Dutch TV show. The red-eyed girls and boys believe they can now become other people and monsters, much to their delight.

Check out the full film below.

Directed by Jonathan Caouette, the renowned filmmaker behind the incredible Tarnation and Walk Away Renee, All Flowers in Time will probably give me nightmares about televisions for a long time. But I found an interesting subtext in this film, which I think actually contributes to its scariness. Experimental films, especially ones so fantastically in the vein of David Lynch, just bring out the analyser in me, so this is my take on it.

I think it's a film about the fluidity of identity, something that has become more of a labelled commodity once the world got "social." Who we are is constantly being examined in profiles, smushed into user icons, detailed in 140 characters or less, defined by our likes, exposed by our hacked secrets. Identity in the film is fluid, something to be stolen or even absorbed by something as common and harmless as a television. There's the persistent question of "who do you think you are?", coupled with the all too common disappointment of discovering that someone is not who we may have imagined them to be (the monster face), which are then all packaged in the film as a very frightening adventure in a bedroom.

I was absolutely thrilled and humbled to get to have a conversation about life, film, and the fantastic Chloë Sevigny with the man himself, Jonathan Caouette. Here are some of the best bits. Enjoy. 

Miriam Lee: You are such a David Lynch fan. I love it.

Jonathan Caouette: This film is a direct, obvious homage to him. At the very, very beginning of the project I wasn't saying that, but yeah... 

ML: Walk Away Renee came out in 2011, and you haven't put out anything since. Why the radio silence?

JC: Well, Walk Away Renee was a follow-up to Tarnation, and a complicated documentary to make because it was emotional on many levels. And, it was a documentary that was made out of happenstance. It wasn't made from the same place I'd made the first documentary. It didn't have the same energy or authenticity. Initially, much of the content for it was created as a supplement for the ten-year anniversary DVD for Tarnation. Then the idea snowballed into it being its own self-contained film, and it became its own entity. I was wavering on the idea of making another documentary again after that just because it was such an intense experience. But then, a couple of months after it came out, I got an email from Marianne Faithfull's manager, who is also an ex-love of hers, and they want me to do a definitive documentary about the life and times of Marianne Faithfull. So that's what I'm working on and it is very, very exciting. I'm also writing my first narrative script, and it's taken a long time to get into the right space to write it. I needed the right amount of solace and downtime -- the most unstressed time I could imagine -- to be able to do it for the first time. I'm working with a friend of mine who's just a wonderful wordsmith, and we're co-writing a script based off a story I came up with. It's very exciting, and that'll hopefully be coming in the pipeline probably in May of next year. It'll be exploring some of the same themes as All Flowers in Time. It'll also have some experimental elements to it but with its own aesthetic, and it will be much more accessible and cohesive. I'd call it "existential suspense."

ML: Peekaboo drives me nuts. Any games that involve the hiding of faces is terrifying to me even now. Why do you think this film is so frightening and where did it all come from?

JC: A lot of what that film is -- a few elements anyway -- were derived from my own childhood fears. Had I been given time with the idea for All Flowers in Time, that in itself could have been a longer short, or even something that had gone even further into making the ideas of those fears more explanatory in some ways. But the film was made in kind of a way that I've made other things; I've been a bit obsessive with some of the things I've shot in the past. I'm sure many filmmakers and video artists do this -- you'll shoot something and it'll be a half-thought idea, like the footage of my grandfather [who plays the old man] and the two younger people interacting with him in the kitchen. That was actually a test for the HVX camera when it'd come out. I'd always wanted to work with my grandfather as an actor, I always thought he'd be really cool under imaginary circumstances because he was such a character. We shot this around 2007. So, although it was all just a camera test, I thought it was just great aesthetically. I have a thing about content sitting on hard drives. I think: I shot this...what can I do with it? How can I start with this and maybe use it to ripple out?

Later, in 2009, my friends Michele Civetta and Asia Argento were producing an omnibus called One Dream Rush. It was kind of a cross- promotional thing for 42 Below Vodka. They'd asked a bunch of filmmakers to make a 42-second film that was based on a dream or a nightmare. Michele had asked me to do one, and it was an honour to be among the other people who'd been asked to do it. The initial ideas I had were a bit ambitious for 42 seconds, and then I'd remembered the footage I'd shot of my grandfather. Around that time, I'd started meeting Chloë on the festival circuit. I'd been an enormous fan of hers since Kids, and I love all her work. We knew we'd like to maybe do something together one day.  Eventually, I came up with the idea of just writing something else that could involve her, and could somehow be folded into this thing with my granddad, and I thought about putting all of that together in 42 seconds -- but that never sort of paid off, so I ended up just shooting this thing off with her in one day in my apartment. In 42 seconds I could only get up to the scene in the living room where the child has just seen the show on TV, so it ended up expanding into something else entirely.

ML: And that something else was a very experimental film. What was the process like for putting this type of film out for a general audience to see?

JC: It went to the short film corner at Cannes ... I was really surprised that a film that experimental, on the spectrum of experimental, would show at Cannes, or at Sundance for that matter. Then the film was scouted and discovered by Danny Lennon from the Canadian company Phi. At the time, they were churning out all these really cool, dark short films. They wanted to come on and not only distribute the film, but also produce it in the sense that they were going to help me put the effects on the film that I was hoping to get at the time. And that's pretty much how the film came into fruition.  I'm very grateful that it showed, and it's cool that it has found a second life online now.

ML: I recall reading a great piece about you in The Guardian from 2005, about your childhood and all the difficulties you'd encountered growing up. As someone who also had a tough childhood, I'm always looking for people with similar histories who also channelled the painful effects in a creative way. When looking back at everything you've made so far, what've been some of the pleasant surprises that have come as a result of your work?

JC: There've been many, many pleasant surprises. When I was making Tarnation, it initially started off as this very private, cathartic thing that I was making on my iMac clamshell computer without even an external hard drive. I'd just gotten excited about the idea that I could take all this stuff that I'd hoarded up to that point, and manipulate it in a way that I never thought could be possible. This was right at the beginning when people were still saying, "maybe one day people will start making films in their living rooms." Not a lot of people were doing at the time, at least not that much. When I was making Tarnation, at best I was thinking maybe this could show in a gallery as a one-off thing -- maybe. This was of course before Gus Van Sant came on and endorsed the film, and John Cameron Mitchell became executive producer. Before it had even gone to the Mix Festival, before Sundance, before all of that, it was this very, very private thing. I was using archival clips from my favourite movies, most of the music was derived from my CD collection... I was never thinking about rights and clearances, or anything, and miraculously when the film was discovered and distributed, 95% of all that stuff I put in was cleared. Most of the content that was in there had inadvertently become love letters to a lot of people that were featured in the film in some way or another. So in terms of pleasant surprises, Karen Black saw the film, and she was one of my favourite actresses of all time. I got to know pretty well since Tarnation came out. Getting to forge a relationship with her was really great, and a pleasant surprise. This project now with Marianne Faithfull is another pleasant surprise.

But I think that most important thing is that I get to have these perpetual conversations about [Tarnation], with so many amazing people who have come from very similar circumstances and every single walk of life. It's fantastic to get that opportunity to have a conversation with a lot of different people over the course of time about a subject matter that's often never talked about and has been very taboo. It's been really nice to know that I've been able to inspire some people to realize that there is -- as cliché as it sounds -- that there is always hope. There has to be. I don't want to christen myself as being one type of filmmaker. I want to explore all kinds of genres. I'm really into the idea of trying to discover new ways of storytelling. I'm constantly thinking about how you get through the noise of the post-YouTube, media era, to tell your story. 

No matter what kinds of films I continue to make, I want to make films that remind people that they live and die. Without sounding foreboding about it, I don't want to say I've been in an existential crisis, but I've been very aware of my personal mortality, since I was young but especially now. I think it's important to always remember our mortality -- I think it would help with the way people treat each other and bring perspective to so many situations. Love yourself and try to love everyone you can while you're here. 

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If you want to know more about All Flowers in Time, you can further frighten and fascinate yourself on the film's website. My deepest thanks again to Jonathan! 

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